Monday, April 5, 2010

The LATEst edition

so right now I'm writing this from Winnipeg, after having been home for 2 weeks already. But we all drop the ball every now and then don't we...

So back to Calafate after our most AMAZING hiking in the Fitz Roy range. We grabbed at 7 am bus, arrived in town, grabbed our rental car, stocked up on groceries and away we flew to the eastern coast. We rolled through hour after hour of dry flat grasslands where wooly bundles of sheep wandered around trying to find something to eat. We passed small herds of guanaco (wild llama type animals) and Rhea (large emu type birds). Very fun.
After many hours of driving, we finally admitted to each other, "This park that we are heading to had better be flipping fantastic to warrant the 6 hours of such boring driving." As luck would have it, it was. The Parque National Monte Leon right on the eastern coast was home to sandstone cliffs, an atlantic ocean whose tide retreated over 40 meters, sealions, cormorants, guanacos, the occasional puma AND the biggest Malegenic penguin colony in the world. Very cool.
We arrived and set up camp in the windiest area to date. Seriously, we had to be VERY careful when setting up our tent. If we had let it go, it would have gone flying for miles.
After an evening of fighting with the wind to cook in a sheltered area, we chose to eat inside the lovely lodge set up in the park. The couple who ran the lodge were an interesting pair in their late 50's who were a wealth of information about the area. We learned that this south eastern patagonian area is off of the main grid. Each small town must produce its own power. This of course keeps the area sparsely inhabited and somewhat poor as industry has not entered the area. The south east is known as an oil and port area. They drill for oil, receive shipments in the port, then truck it all up north to Buenos Aires. Lots of semi trucks on the road.

Day 2 at the park. We woke up to see the sunrise over the ocean. Marc took beautiful photos while I tried not to be blown over by the wind. Seriously, it's a bit crazy here. After lunch we drove out to start checking things out. These things included a very windy boardwalk trek to see the sea lion colonies. They must have been mostly out fishing as we only spotted 10 or so of the lions on the rocks. We also saw some mom's encouraging their reluctant babies to slide down into the ocean to go for a swim. Aparantly the kids just wanted to stay home and play playstation as they ran away from their parents. Very funny. Onwards to the cormorant island to check out those birds, most were out fishing too. Then came the best part.
We drove to the start of a 2 km walk which would bring us to the cliffs overlooking where the penguins come in from the ocean. Dozens of penguins were lined up at the beach, taking a rest and gathering their courage to make the big trek up the cliffside to their burrow homes that they dig in the clay. We wandered up a marked path, passing penguins hanging out in the bushes along the way, until we got to a viewing platform/deck. Up we went to check out the deck and realized, penguins like hanging out under decks!!!
We were there during the penguins yearly molt. Every year they lose their feathers and grow in new ones. I know that in NZ when this happens, the penguins feel sick and cranky the whole time, and can lose up to 40% of their body weight in the process. The whole thing seems pretty horrible. We tried our best not to pester the molting penguins, but got lots of photos and spent lots of time checking them out.
Back to the camping area where we shared a glass of wine with an Argentinian/German couple who we met. Then off to bed with big plans for another sunrise wake up the next day.
Day 3 at the park. We looked out the door of the tent at sunrise...I don't think that counts as 'getting up' at sunrise. Oh well. After breakfast, Marc was shaking out things from our dusty tent when he shook a pair of pants just the wrong way and put his back out. Oops.
Off we headed, with poor Marc grimacing in pain. We drove further north to drop off the argentinian/german couple at the bus station. Our little car was much too small to offer them a ride all the way back to el Calafate. We filled up the tank with gas, bought a pack of frozen corn for Marc to lean on as he drove, and headed back to el Calafate. We got back to our favourite hostel in el Calafate and proceeded to get our out of order packs ready for our next day flight. Poor Marc with the sore back could barely stand in line for our buffet bbq dinner that night.
The next morning, another bright and early wake up. I moved our packs to the storage area, and we buzzed off in our rental car to the most famous site of the "perito Moreno" glaciar.
This magnificent glaciar is 60 meters tall, 2 kilometers wide, and many kms long fronting the beautiful mountains of the area. We wandered happily around, the only tourists there. The tourist busses only arrive for 11am, when the first of the boats head out on the lake to get a close up view of the huge ice cube. Though we were too early for the boat, we were happy to wander the well set up walkways. The series of paths lead us to several different views of the glacier. The glacier is one of only 3 advancing glaciers in the world. It advances by 2 meters each day, but at the same time, almost that same amount calves off of the front keeping the glaciar fairly stable, but making for incredible crashing sounds as big blocks of ice the size of houses and cars smash down into the water below. The cold cold breeze off of the glacier kept us bundled up. It would be a nice contrast as in a few hours we were to catch a flight to Montevideo Uruguay...for a change of pace.
Back to el Calafate, drop off our rental car, and catch a flight. 3 hours later we landed in the city of Montevideo Uruguay. We arrived at our hostel, and spent that sweaty evening setting up the next few days of our travel.
We spent only one night in the capital city before catching a 4 hour bus to the beach town of Punta del Diablo. We had found a cabana online, so arrived to our own place with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining, livingroom, and front deck with a hammock and a hammock chair. All of this for 50 dollars a day.
We spent the next 5 days drinking beer and wine, Marc perfected grilling over coal, and we wandered around town, swimming in the warm ocean, petting stray dogs, watching bad movies, napping in the hammocks, and walking up and down the beaches. We found a colony of burrowing owls which Marc got some great photos of. Luckily Marc's bad back was cured with a few doses of robaxacet and he felt well enough to rent a surfboard. As luck wouldn't have it though, the first day of the rental brought an ocean as flat as a bathtub. No waves to surf. Day 2 brought a high hard surf with big waves and lots of whitewash. Marc did give it the old college try, but couldn't get his big rental board past the whitewash to the waves. He did at least provide me with a good 20 minutes of entertainment as he tried. What a great beach break on the trip.
Back on the bus after 5 days, back to Montevideo, then another bus and boat ride to Buenos Aires.
We spent 3 nights in BA, exploring the huge city, we went to a photo exhibit of Steve Mcurry's work. Amazing stuff. And spent hours wandering around checking out the buildings and the recoletta cemetery. All very cool, and all providing a million and one photo ops.
An excellent way to end our trip. We headed back home on March 19th, taking 3 flights to get there. Back to nice weather in Manitoba and a LONG list of things to get done before I open the store again. But after such a great vacation, I can't really complain, now can I.

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